Progress is being made in improving the quality and quantity of Europe
’s water resources, particularly in the European Union. Much of this improvement
has been made through measures aimed at reducing the pressures on Europe’s
water from households and industry, often introduced through European
policy initiatives. However, many of Europe’s groundwater bodies, rivers,
lakes, estuaries, and coastal and marine waters are still significantly
impacted by human activities. For example, pollutant concentrations remain
above, and water levels below, natural or sustainable levels. In many
parts of Europe this leads to a degradation of aquatic ecosystems and
dependent terrestrial ecosystems such as wetlands, and to drinking and
bathing water that sometimes fail human health standards.
The EU water framework directive represents a major advance in European
policy with the concepts of ecological status and water management at
the river basin level being included in a legislative framework for the
first time. Ecological status must include an assessment of the biological
communities, habitat and hydrological characteristics of water bodies
as well as the traditional physico-chemical determinands. For the first
time, measures will have to be targeted at maintaining sustainable water
levels and flows and at maintaining and restoring riparian habitats.
The success of the water framework directive in achieving its objectives
will be dependent on proper implementation by countries.The European Commission
is therefore developing a common implementation strategy for the new directive
with EU Member States and accession countries.
The achievement of good ecological status for surface waters and good
groundwater status will require Foreword measures aimed at the agricultural
sector in particular. Agriculture has a significant, and in many areas
the most significant, impact on Europe ’s waters. This is reflected, for
example, in the continued high concentrations of nitrates and pesticides
in surface and groundwaters and in the over-abstraction of water resources
for irrigation. It is now recognised that environmental protection needs
to be integrated into sectoral policies and legislation (such as the common
Another area of concern is the lack of appropriate and adequate information
on the effects of many chemical substances on aquatic life and human health.
Thousands of chemicals are being produced in, and used by, modern society.
Many end up in the aquatic environment. Most have not had formal risk
assessments, as progress has been very slow in assessing existing chemicals,
which is required by legislation. In particular, there is a growing awareness
of the issue of chemicals with endocrine mimicking effects.
The EU will incorporate the 10 acceding countries in 2004. Water quality
in the acceding countries is often different from that in current 15 EU
Member States, reflecting differences in the socio-economic structures
and development of the regions. For example, there is less polluting agriculture
but poorer wastewater treatment in the acceding countries than in EU Member
States. Industry and agriculture has generally been in decline in the
acceding countries during the transition to market-oriented economies.
Agricultural practices are not so intensive in these countries as in current
EU Member States. If acceding countries aim to achieve EU levels of agricultural
production then, potentially, water quality and quantity will deteriorate,
e.g. nitrate concentrations in surface and groundwaters will increase,
as will the nitrate load on Europe’s seas. It is, therefore, essential
that the development of the economies of acceding countries within the
EU is accompanied by the appropriate development and implementation of
measures that safeguard the future quality and quantity of water in these
It is my hope that this report provides an overview of the current issues
affecting Europe’s water and some insights into how it can be better protected
and restored in future.
Interim Executive Director
The full report is available: click